Gillette Know Your Rights workshop

Attendees listen intently to learn about their rights under state and federal law

Workers want rights information

Urged to speak out on safety and report job injuries

‘Every worker has the right to a safe and healthy workplace.’

Hispanic and Latino workers who attended a “Know Your Rights” workshop in Gillette Monday night displayed keen interest in learning their rights and responsibilities under state and federal labor and job safety laws. Workshop speakers told the workers that they must voice concerns about safety at job sites and report injuries. Attendees were reassured they’re not alone in dealing with job safety and wage issues. State agency representatives noted that they receive thousands of reports of injuries, safety concerns, and labor standards violations each year. The workshop attracted nearly 40 people. Many use Spanish as their primary language and turned to interpreter Cristina Colling to relay their many questions to the workshop speakers.

SAFER attorney Mark Aronowitz

Jackson Attorney Mark Aronowitz of the Spence Association for Employee Rights (SAFER) presented an overview of relevant state and federal laws with particular attention to Workers’ Compensation, OSHA, and the Mine Safety and Health Act (MSHA). He noted that Wyoming’s well-established status as an “at-will” state means employers can terminate a worker’s employment for any reason – or no reason at all. That means that under certain circumstances, injured workers can be discharged; however, he also detailed how accurate, complete reporting of safety violations and injuries can protect workers. Rene Nieto of OSHA, Faye Jorgenson of Workers’ Compensation, and Russ Webb of Labor Standards and Compliance discussed how their agencies carry out the law. All emphasized the need to report injuries, safety violations, or failure to comply with labor standards regarding wages, overtime, and discrimination. There was plenty of interest in the crowd, which listened intently and had many questions. One Hispanic man told of being talked out of reporting a job injury by his employer. He said he was promised better compensation than Workers’ Comp would provide and light duty while he recovered. The light duty lasted only a couple of days and three months later he was discharged. He was able to prove his injury to Workers’ Comp and has received help, but his story highlighted how unscrupulous employers use fear, intimidation, and lies to avoid seeing a job injury go on their record and potentially driving up their Workers’ Compensation premium costs. Like Aronowitz, the agency representatives repeatedly noted the need to meet legal deadlines for reporting injuries to employers (within 72 hours) and making certain to file a report to Workers’ Comp with 10 days. Jorgenson noted the purpose of Workers’ Comp is to ensure that workers receive prompt, adequate medical attention in order to help them restore their health and return to work. “Every worker has the right to a safe and healthy workplace,” Nieto said. Both Nieto and Aronowitz emphasized the need to keep records to verify their reports during the OSHA or MSHA investigation phase.

Sponsors and thanks

The workshop co-sponsors include the Wyoming Association of Churches, the Wyoming State AFL-CIO, the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, SAFER and the ESPC. Thanks to ESPC field organizer Cristina Colling for simultaneous interpretation. Special thanks to Chesie Lee of WAC and several WAC members in Gillette who provided logistical assistance, including reserving the Wyoming room of the Campbell County Library, and refreshments.

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